
ERIC Identifier: ED463948 Publication Date: 20001100 Author: Greene, Beth D.  Herman, Marlena  Haury, David L. Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for Science Mathematics and Environmental Education Columbus OH. TIMSS: What Have We Learned about Math and Science Teaching? ERIC Digest.The Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), conducted during the 199495 school year, has been used extensively to compare the mathematics and science achievement of students and the instructional practices of schools worldwide. TIMSS followed in the wake of other reports and documents (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983; National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 1989; 1995; American Association for the Advancement of science, 1989, 1993; Executive Office of the President, 1990) that have focused attention on the importance, conditions, and goals of science and mathematics education. In addition to providing data on the progress of U.S. students towards national goals, TIMSS has enabled comparisons of some U.S. educational practices to those of other countries. Tests were designed to reflect the mathematics and science curricular goals of several TIMSS countries, and students in both public and private schools were tested three levels: 9 years of age, 13 years of age, and those in their final year of secondary school. CRITICAL QUESTIONSIn the U.S., the TIMSS data have been
used to address five main questions: (1) How does student knowledge of
mathematics and science in the U.S. compare to that of students in other
nations? (2) How do science and mathematics curricula and expectations for
student learning in the U.S. compare to those of other nations? (3) How does
classroom instruction in the U.S. compare with that of other nations? (4) Do U.
S. teachers receive as much support in their efforts to teach as do their
counterparts in other nations? and (5) Are U. S. students as focused on their
studies as their international counterparts? (USDOE, 1997, p. 4).
DATA COLLECTION METHODSIn order to gain a broad picture of
educational systems, several different types of data were collected:
* Assessments lasting 90 minutes were administered, with all students receiving both multiplechoice and freeresponse items. A smaller number of participants also completed handson assessments. * Questionnaires given to students, teachers, and school administrators focused on beliefs about mathematics and science, teaching practices, and school polices. * Curriculum guides and textbooks from participating countries were examined to determine subjectmatter content, sequencing, and expected learning outcomes. * In the U.S., Germany, and Japan, selected classrooms of 13yearolds were videotaped so that instructional practices could be studied and compared. * Researchers spent three months in the U.S., Germany, and Japan observing and interviewing educators, students, and parents to prepare ethnographic case studies. Findings were used to evaluate the educational and social environments of schooling in the three countries. KEY RESULTSAchievement. U. S. 4thgraders scored above the
international average in both mathematics and science, while 8thgraders scored
below average in mathematics. Mathematics achievement among U.S. students seemed
weakest in the areas of geometry, measurement, and proportionality.
Curriculum. The majority of participating countries have a national curriculum, with only nine, including the U.S., leaving curriculum decisions to educators at the local or state levels. The 8thgrade mathematics curriculum in the U.S. seems comparable to the average 7thgrade curriculum for other participating countries, putting U.S. students a full year behind their global counterparts at age thirteen. Even though they are falling behind in mathematics, it is interesting to note that, on average, students in the U.S. spend more hours in mathematics and science classes than do students in Germany and Japan. Curricular comparisons with Germany and Japan show that less highlevel mathematical thought is required of U.S. students. Teaching. Through talking with teachers it was discovered that the primary goal of U. S. mathematics teachers is to teach students how to obtain answers, while teachers in other countries are more concerned with helping students understand mathematical concepts. Also, most Japanese teachers who were observed practiced elements of the reform movement, while U. S. teachers reported familiarity with reform principles without necessarily implementing them (USDOE, 1997). Teachers' Lives. U.S. teachers generally have more college education than their international counterparts. German and Japanese teachers undergo longterm structured apprenticeship programs, however, and teachers in Japan reported more opportunities to discuss teachingrelated issues than did U. S. teachers. Students' Lives. Tracking seems to be implemented differently in the U.S., Germany, and Japan. Students of differing abilities are typically divided into separate classrooms in the U.S. and Germany, but in Japan there is no ability grouping until after testing at grade ten. Also, differences in the content of mathematics courses were noted among different ability groups in the U.S., while in Germany and Japan the same concepts were addressed in all groups, with differences being limited to the depth or rigor of approach. More homework is given and more class time is spent discussing it in the U.S., but time spent on homework out of school was about the same for all three countries. Many of the same distractions are seen in all nations; heavy television viewing was noted for both U.S. and Japanese students. For more details about TIMSS and its findings, visit the Website at timss.bc.edu/timss1995.html. TIMSSRIn 1999, the Third International Mathematics and
Science StudyRepeat (TIMSSR) focused on the mathematics and science
achievement of 8thgraders. With 38 nations participating, the U.S. was able to
compare the achievement of its 8thgraders in the original TIMSS to the
achievement of its 8thgraders four years later, as well as to their
international counterparts. TIMSSR also included a videotape study of 8thgrade
mathematics and science teaching in seven nations. Preliminary findings include
the following:
* Between 1995 and 1999, there was no change in 8thgrade mathematics or science achievement in the U, S. * In mathematics, U.S. 8thgraders outperformed peers in 17 nations, and performed lower than peers in 14. * In science, U.S. 8thgraders outperformed their peers in 18 nations, and performed lower than peers in 14. * Among the 17 nations whose 4thgraders participated in the original TIMSS and whose 8thgraders participated in TIMSSR, the relative mathematics and science performance of U.S. students was lower for 8thgraders in 1999 than it was for 4thgraders in 1995. * According to their teachers, U.S. 8thgraders were less likely than their international counterparts to be taught mathematics by teachers with a major or concentration in mathematics, but as likely as international peers to have teachers who majored in mathematics education. * Among U.S. 8thgraders in 1999, 86% reported working from worksheets or textbooks on their own almost always or pretty often during mathematics lessons, compared to the international average of 59 %. * A higher percentage of U.S. 8thgraders reported that they could almost always or pretty often begin their mathematics or science homework during class (74%and 57%, respectively) than their international peers (42% and 41%, respectively). Finally, compared to international students in 1999, a higher percentage of U.S. 8thgraders reported having to explain the reasoning behind an idea in most science lessons, conducting experiments or investigations in science lessons, using computers in mathematics and science lessons, and attending schools with Internet access. For more information, visit the TIMSSR Website at nces.ed.gov/timss/timssr/index.asp. CONCLUSIONSThere is no easy answer to the question of how
to help U.S. students move to the top of the international comparisons, but the
results from TIMSS and TIMSSR have important implications. The TIMSS National
Research Center suggests: (a) Providing better preservice and inservice
opportunities to enhance teacher knowledge of mathematics and science; (b)
Improving the consistency and focus curricula; (c) Increasing opportunities for
teachers to interact within and across subject areas; (4) Aligning national
standards, curriculum frameworks, instructional methods, and assessment
practices; (5) Eliminating tracking; and (6) Encouraging policy changes that
will support improved curriculum and instruction.
It is interesting to note that despite having greater access to computers, the Internet, and experiential lessons, a higher percentage of U.S. students than international students reported working on their own from worksheets and textbooks in 1999. Clearly, the access to more resources within classrooms has not dramatically altered routine classroom experiences. RESOURCESFor more information on TIMSS and TIMSSR, please
visit the following Websites:
U.S. National Research Center for TIMSS ustimss.msu.edu TIMSS pages at the National Center for Educational Statistics nces.ed.gov/timss The International Study Center at Boston College timss.bc.edu TIMSS resources at the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse www.enc.org/topics/timss/ Mathematics and Science Education Around the World: What Can We Learn From The Survey of Mathematics and Science Opportunities (SMSO) and the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS)? www.nap.edu/books/0309056314/html/1.html Executive summary: A Splintered Vision: An Investigation of U.S. Science and Mathematics Education ivc.uidaho.edu/timss/splintrd.html A TIMSS Primer (Fordham Report) www.edexcellence.net/library/timss.html REFERENCESAmerican Association for the Advancement of
Science. (1989). "Science for all Americans." New York: Oxford.
American Association for the Advancement of Science. (1993). "Benchmarks for science literacy." New York: Oxford. Executive Office of the President. (1990). "National goals for education." Washington, DC: Author. [ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 319 143] National Commission on Excellence in Education. (1983). "A nation at risk." Washington, DC: Author. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (1989). "Curriculum and evaluation standards for school mathematics." Reston, VA: Author. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (1995). "Professional standards for teaching mathematics." Reston, VA: Author. U. S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement. (1997). "Attaining Excellence: A TIMSS Resource Kit." Washington, DC: Author. U. S. TIMSS National Research Center. "A Splintered Vision." East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University, College of Education.

